Friday, May 18, 2007
the momentum of government
The behavior of a complex system can be characterized by broad generalizations, or rules. These rules capture correlations and trends, but are not necessarily causal in nature, they emerge. Just as the behavior of a gas emerges from the behavior of its constituent particles, so the behavior of a government emerges from its constituent agencies, officials, etc. And, similar to the case of gases, where the particular types of particles which comprise the gas are largely irrelevant to its behavior as a gas, there are regularities in the behavior of governments which can be predicted and characterized independent of the specific makeup of that government. In particular, governments grow.
Government growth is an observable natural phenomenon which arises from bureaucratic organization. In a bureaucracy, there is no metric for measuring the ratio between efficacy and expense. In a market, an equilibrium is reached which maximizes this ratio (one characterization of this equilibrium point is through the notion of pareto-optimality). The flow of money provides a metric by which distance from this equilibrium point can be measured in a market. Governments are necessarily bureaucratic in structure, and a bureaucracy is not subject to market forces, and thus money cannot serve this role of metric within a government. Without a successful measure of the ratio between the costs of actions and their efficacy, however, agencies and officials within the government will be alotted funding in accordance with principles irrelevant to their success at fulfilling their intended purpose. In general, it is the lack of a well-defined goal state plus the lack of a gauge of efficiency which ensure that funding will increase, power will accrue, and any particular agency will grow. As a corollary, government as a whole will, in general, grow.
This momentum of government is entirely independent of the type of government. Monarchies, oligarchies, republics, democracies, social republics, social democracies, anarcho-syndicalist communes, etc.: all governments comprise bureaucracies and, as such, are susceptible to this same growth, this same momentum. The difference between types of governments can be measured along two parameters: 1) the number of tasks that fall under government's purview; 2) the process by which additional tasks accrue to government responsibility. In a communist society, for example, all tasks fall under government purview, and thus all tasks are carried out in a manner governed by the properties of a bureaucracy, i.e. without an appropriate metric for measuring efficiency. This is why gross inefficiency has generally been observed in communist societies. A monarchy is characterized by the manner by which tasks accrue, i.e. via the decisions of the monarch. Thus, this characterization alone does not answer the question of how many tasks fall under government's purview. Democracies require majority agreement for a new task to accrue to government responsibility, thus the growth of bureaucracy in a democracy is relatively slow, but monotonic.
This perspective provides a different explanation for the progression through various social structures as observed by Marx. Marx characterizes the trend from the bottom up, from the perspective of workers. Conversely, we can also characterize the trend from the top down, from the perspective of governments. The progression from monarchies, to democracies, to socialist societies is just an example of the gradual accretion of power to the underlying bureaucratic structure. Backlashes, as have recently occurred against communist societies, are the result of the gross inefficiency of a bureaucracy finally being challenged by those subject to it. In general, such backlashes require violent upheaval to remove tasks from the purview of government. Bureaucratic channels generally develop such that it is exceedingly difficult to purge them of power.
Can this encroaching tide be stemmed? Can a great enough dam be erected? Through one small hole in the dike erected by our forefathers ("to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers"), a torrent has poured through and flooded most of the countryside. We sit calmly and quibble about this and that, while we are up to our necks in water. The wise man says, he who would not drown, must choose: either plug this hole, or build a raft!